:: What is Your Photo Worth?
The Business of Photography::

© Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved.


"I've been a photographer for over 30 years. I need a real job to pay the bills." I gasped as I received this e-mail. The tongue-in-cheek comment was sent in jest but these words convey a common misconception from hobby photographers around the world - that it is impossible to earn a living from photography.

I get many questions about the business of photography from clients, students and photography enthusiasts. So many questions, in fact, that I developed and present elements of the Creative Business Seminar to college, university and private groups.

The business questions I receive generally deal with the perceived worth of photography. This month's edition of Exposed!, therefore, explores the value of photography - "what's your photo worth?" and the business of photography.


It's a grim world for the profession of photography. Low cost photo equipment and increasingly sophisticated and easily available technologies mean anyone can pick up a camera and start taking photos. With such low financial barriers to the commercial world of photography people are proudly giving their photos to profitable corporations accepting only recognition as compensation. See istockphoto, BBC weather, photo contests,, etc.

Crowd sourcing

Heck, search for "submit your photos" at Google and you will find many, many businesses and organizations willing to use your photos for free! Can you blame them?! There are some good amateur photographers out there! The phenomenon of companies calling on non-professionals to carry out a task normally performed by professionals is called "crowd sourcing." It seems a great business model for everyone except someone trying to break into the photo market. Crowd sourcing capitalizes on many otherwise-employed, talented people whose real payment is seeing their photo used commercially.

The Good News

There is good news! You can make a decent living in this creative field and, surprisingly, photographic talent is only one small ingredient in the recipe of photographic career success.


Veteran commercial photographer, Pierre St. Jacques, once told me "... 'Arry, what you charge, it affects me!" If my prices are too low it undervalues commercial photography and makes it harder for other working photographers to make a living!

Pricing is tricky:

  • How much is your photo, creativity, time and equipment worth?
  • What value do you place on your work?
  • How do others perceive the value of your work?
  • How much do others charge for similar work?

Low pricing does little good for your business (or mine) except encourage clients to expect unsustainable prices! If you can justify a significant and sustainable price you can afford to stay in business.

This fine article by Debra Weiss describes tips and ideas to help you price your photos and determine your photo's worth!

 Harry Nowell Photography Inc.


Copyright and Value

Copyright is your legal friend! It legally recognizes the idea of ownership of a photo and protects, you, the copyright holder from unpaid use. Some people confuse the idea of copyright with usage rights and privacy.

Copyright and Usage Rights

I can hold copyright of an image and, also, license someone to use the photo as they wish, forever. Retaining copyright still allows me, the copyright holder, to use and earn money from the photo elsewhere.

Copyright and Privacy

Owning the copyright to a photograph of a recognizeable person does not mean I may print and post and publish that photo anywhere! NO! For commercial uses I would need to have copyright AND permission - a "model release", "media pass" or other appropriate permission. This month's article features a photo I shot at a wedding. I requested written permission from the couple to use this photo commercially - it is one of my favourite wedding shots and generic enough to use in a variety of ways. The couple agreed.

Never give up your copyright - or build copyright, significantly, into the price.


Learn to embed copyright information into your photo data. Also, when posting your photos on websites show pride in your photos by placing a watermark such as " - your name". It shows you value your work and helps people recognize your photo's worth, too. One benefit for me is that the watermark acts as advertising or a reminder of my websites - as you can see this month's photo from

Pro Perspective

In the fall a long term client asked "Is there any way that you can re-evaluate your price? Is there a portion... you could donate through sponsorship? We will recognize you accordingly." After five years of service I said "no". I couldn't afford to! It's a slope made slippery by crowd sourcing. I am sure the client has found someone with a camera, excited at the photo opportunity. And I will fill that time with more valuable work!

Final Frame:

Whether you are a hobbyist or trying to earn a living or looking to purchase photography services & products - everything comes at a cost! The photo world is a tough place. To succeed as a business requires hard work, practical business sense, persistence, and some good fortune! Check my Creative Business Seminar if you are interested in learning more!

Take photos. Have fun!


Samples of our work